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Chasing a Championship
Bryan Chase and the St. Maries Lumberjacks gear up for another state tournament run
Published: 3/1/2021 11:58:19 AM
Brandon Baney
Managing Editor/Broadcaster


Since its establishment in the late 1800s, the community of St. Maries has been known for its ties to the timber industry. More recently, though, the town of 2,800 has received plenty of attention for its boys’ basketball program.

Last week, the Lumberjacks qualified for their seventh consecutive 2A state tournament. In their previous six appearances, St. Maries has advanced to the semifinal round every time. Despite those six semifinal berths, the Lumberjacks have moved on to the championship game only once.

In 2019, an underdog Lumberjacks squad upset top-ranked Ririe in the semifinals to advance to a title match showdown with North Fremont. In the championship game, St. Maries trailed by ten in the second half, but rallied back to tie the game with 30 seconds remaining in regulation.

Following a North Fremont miss, the Lumberjacks had the ball with five seconds to play. Out of a timeout, sophomore guard Eli Gibson went coast-to-coast, but his game-winning layup attempt rimmed out as time expired, and the game went to overtime.

“We were pretty deflated after Eli’s shot (missed),” head coach Bryan Chase said. “It was tough to recover from that in overtime.”

With a second lease on life, North Fremont prevailed in the extra session 45-37. And St. Maries was left yearning for its second state championship in school history.

Gibson is now a senior, and the unquestioned leader of this year’s team. “He’s a great leader,” Chase said. “He demands hard work and positive attitudes from everyone on the team.”

Gibson was recently selected to compete in the 18th annual Idaho Statewide All-Star Basketball Game. Beyond high school, though, Chase says, “Eli just wants to go work for his dad at his tree removal company.”

That blue-collar work ethic has spread to the rest of the team. “My players want to come in to practice at 5:00 AM, just so they can put in a full day’s work after,” Chase said. “A lot of them work for family logging or tree removal businesses.”

As for the business on the basketball court, St. Maries is confident. After last year’s 62-41 loss to West Side in the semifinals, the Lumberjacks said goodbye to just one senior. With summer ball wiped out because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Chase said returning nine of the top ten players from a year ago was monumental.

“We’re a pretty unselfish group,” Chase said. “Eight different guys have started this year, and we play ten guys pretty much every night. Nobody cares if they score 20 points, or if they only score five points. We really play team basketball.”

Bryan Chase is a St. Maries lifer. He graduated from St. Maries in 1990, and played his high school ball under former coach Jim Ascher. “My junior year, we were bad,” Chase said. “We came into districts with a 2-17 record, but we got hot and won five games in a row to get to state. Then in my senior year, we were 15-5, but we got upset at districts and missed out on state.”

So St. Maries enters this year’s 2A competition still with just one state championship in school history. In 1960, the Lumberjacks won the Idaho AA title over Homedale 62-48. That squad was led by Ed Haskins, who went on to play for the University of Idaho. “Ironically, Ed is my next door neighbor,” Chase said. “So we talk a lot about basketball.”

A state championship in 2021 would certainly give the two plenty to talk about. To get there, the Lumberjacks have to navigate a loaded 2A tournament field. An opening round showdown with District 3 champ Melba awaits. If the Lumberjacks are fortunate enough to qualify for their seventh consecutive semifinal appearance, they would be given a chance to atone for past mistakes, as North Fremont and West Side are on their side of the bracket. “To win at state, we need to have consistency on both ends of the court,” Chase says. “We need to make shots and get to the rim.”

After so many near-misses and close calls at the highest level of competition, a state championship would send the folks of St. Maries into a level of celebration usually reserved for their annual Paul Bunyan Days. And if St. Maries falls short? That just means there’s more work to be done in 2022.

The entire 2A State Tournament, including St Maries' games, will be audio-streamed on


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